Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Oktoberfest - The Penultimate Review

Oktoberfest started as a simple marriage celebration between two royal families, and is now a world-wide celebration of German heritage from Munich to La Crosse. This has been great experiment for us here at MBR, it was the first in-depth style study that we've done on the site; if we say so ourselves, it went swimmingly. We've learned quite a lot during the course of our month of reviewing a single style of beer. We've learned that even after weeks of the same style, one beer can jump out and grab you. We've learned that name doesn't really mean a whole lot. We've learned that the Germans make damn fine beer.

As a preview of what's to come here at MBR. Today we'll hit our last true Oktoberfest, from Hacker-Pschorr, one of the 6 Munich breweries. Coming up Friday we'll look at styles that are similar to the Oktoberfest, if not strictly in keeping with the style. Then next week we are going to spend all three posts on a single topic near and dear to a lot of our hearts. That's the near future; until then ...

You'll recall, the six Munich breweries are Spaten, Paulaner, Augustiner, Hofbrau, and Lowenbrau. You may also recall that of those, only 2 remain as independently owned breweries: Augustiner and Hofbrau. Spaten and Lowenbrau are owned by InBev, Paulaner and Hacker Pschorr are owned by Heineken. Surprisingly, Lowenbrau's Oktoberfestbier has remained elusive despite its global distributor. Not surprisingly, absent the global distribution chain, both Hofbrau and Augustiner remain nearly impossible to find stateside.

While we can't say for certain here, because we can't compare today's beers with beers from pre-corporate ownership, the general consensus is that there has been a notable decrease in quality since their purchase. Also interestingly, the Hofbrau and Augustiner Oktoberfestbiers get universally low ratings at RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. This is hard to believe because it's sort of like saying Windy City Hotdogs aren't very representative of Chicago-style Dogs, or that Bucky Badger cheese curds are bad examples of the curd style. It's a non-sequitur. It is saying that the only breweries officially allowed to make beer for the festival for which the style is named is a bad example of the style. It cannot be. Would you say that Wisconsin State Fair creme puffs are bad creme puffs because they are just too fluffy for the style? NO. It wouldn't make sense. As one reviewer said of the Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier "A fair Oktoberfest, not a bad beer but pretty standard." I suppose, in the most literal sense of the word "standard" it is - it is the standard. Or, as per the Augustiner "Not as good as I was expecting." Then, it seems, that your expectations were off.

And, this is something that we have learned through this whole Oktoberfest tasting: everyone has their interpretation of the style. It's still possible to make beer that isn't good, don't get me wrong. But, the style has some wiggle room. From the sounds of it, the style encompasses everything from Augustiner to Hacker-Pschorr (as you will see, HS was the "darkest" of the sampled Oktobers). But, there are some common characteristics: first and foremost, caramel; also, an emphasis on maltiness as the primary flavor component; they aren't terribly complex beers; they finish cleanly and utilize noble hops almost entirely as there is very little hop aroma; the colors range from golden/light copper to deep amber; while some deviation in the strength of the caramel is not unusual, there are very few "other" flavors (e.g., New Glarus' spices are definitely not in line with the style) with only HS's "chocolate" malts being any significant deviation. As style, the emphasis is definitely on drinkability; these are intended to be consumed in quantity, so the flavors are simple, the beer is light to medium bodied, the finish is clean, and the abv is moderate (generally from 5.5 to 5.8 abv).

Hope you've enjoyed our month-long sojourn into the world of Wisconsin Oktoberfestbiers. Auf Wiedersehen zu Oktoberfest, verantwortlich trinken.

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest
Appearance: the darkest of them so far, a deep amber and somewhat hazy, with a thin white head

Aroma: you can smell this thing from across the room; caramel and maltiness; crazy sweet smelling, almost chocolatey some hop brightness, but very grounded and earthy and nutty

Flavor: tastes exactly like it smells, with a surprisingly smooth, not crisp, finish; the bottle says produced on 07.06 - it's hard to know if this refers to the European convention, in which case it would June of 2007, or if it's the American convention in which case it was produced in July of 2006; the pale malts add nice body and there seems to be even a bit of wheatiness to this to lighten things up a bit; the chocolate is subdued after the initial shock

Body: medium body; smooth, as opposed to clean finish - definitely some lingering sweet flavors lying about, sort of toffee-ish on the finish

Drinkability: the fuller body would make it difficult to consume too many of these, but the taste would definitely bring me back for more; I'd want to lighten the load after while, but I'd start at the Hacker-Pschorr tent.

Notes/Summary: I really enjoyed this beer. It reminds me quite a bit of the Calumet Oktoberfest; though Calumet's doesn't have the chocolate and has a little more assertiveness from the hops; which is my only real complaint with this beer, the hops are virtually non-existant and the flavor kind of drags on and makes the beer seem a lot heavier than it really is.

I think this may be a bottle from last year. If you check the Hacker-Pschorr website, it shows that this year's batch number for the .5 l is 22147; the label on our bottle reads 21263. This might explain the lack of hops and minimal head. Perhaps someone could confirm for us?

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